Pat Metheny: First Circle

The title track to the Pat Metheny Group’s 1984 album, First Circle, opens with a complicated clap rhythm and a melody stated via the wordless vocalizing that’s such an integral part of the Metheny Group sound, here performed by the multi-talented Pedro Aznar. After an escalating piano solo by Lyle Mays, the band takes off, building the tune into something gloriously ascendant. A standout tune on an outstanding album.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter (with Milton Nascimento): Ponta de Areia

The leader of the date is Wayne Shorter, but vocalist Milton Nascimento almost steals the show with his catchy melody and sweet wordless vocal. Nascimento has an angelic falsetto, which he demonstrates to good effect on this track. But Shorter adds a surprising twist by matching the sound of his soprano sax to the timbre of Nascimento's voice. The result is five minutes of blissful music-making, a fresh take that ignores the expectations of Weather Report and Blue Note fans, and reveals instead a different side of Wayne. Folks like Pat Metheny were obviously listening. This whole mixture looks forward to Still Life (Talking) and Metheny's other Brazilian-oriented 1980s projects. But this music doesn't need later events to validate its importance. Its own merits are eminently accessible, even on a first hearing.

January 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joachim Kühn: Youmala

Whether you want to view it from the German + Moroccan + Spaniard, or Jew + Moslem + Christian angle, this trio and its music are about mixing genres and influences. During the last few decades, Europe has been more and more a place where jazz has opened up to ethnic music from the South and the East. And that’s exactly what Kühn, Bekkas and Lopez do: find a common ground where the North-African and Western traditions can blend without falling into the traps of commercial world music. These three musicians have deep roots and open ears. Their forays on this new path are so fruitful that they’re bound to be more than a mere fad.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hank Jones and Cheick-Tidiane Seck: Sarala

Sarala may be the strangest project that Hank Jones recorded, either as a sideman or as a leader. All the more so since this master musician, who played with almost everybody from Coleman Hawkins to Joe Lovano during the last 60 years, had never been to Africa when he met Seck and his musicians from Mali in Paris. When, after a couple of minutes, the solo piano emerges from the thick blend of African rhythms, singing, organ and electric guitar orchestrated by Seck, it sounds with the obviousness and clarity of a pure stream of water flowing through a dense tropical landscape. Jones and Seck sound like they’ve made the Mississippi and Niger rivers meet. And this musically successful meeting is also a very moving one, for obvious historical reasons.

January 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: The First Circle

Starting off with a hand-clapping sequence in 22/8, "The First Circle" is one of the Metheny Group's most idiosyncratic works. Is it jazz? World music (whatever that means)? As you listen your way through each section, from the opening hand percussion to the intricate acoustic guitar bridge to Lyle Mays's surging synthesizer (and later piano) solo, you can't help but notice the feeling of lift. As the composition roars toward its conclusion, Pat's intensely strummed acoustic guitar is pitted against Pedro Aznar's impossibly beautiful wordless vocals. The first time I heard "The First Circle," it was at my first Metheny Group concert. It left me standing there with a slack jaw. Warning: it just might happen to you, too.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pat Metheny: Minuano (Six Eight)

Like many songs from Metheny's 'Brazilian period,' "Minuano (Six Eight)" displays his penchant for making use of various influences within a single, multifaceted structure. A swirling introduction features wordless vocals that foreshadow the main theme brought forth in the second section. Pat then takes an extended guitar solo that seems like it's ready to burst as it leads into a restatement of the head. Just as you're ready for another repeat of that theme, an abrupt left turn is taken and a small army of percussion takes over, playing some inspiring marimba by way of Steve Reich. This makes the final return to the main melody all the more surprising. Really great stuff.

January 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Max Roach: All Africa (from Freedom Now Suite)

The horns only make the briefest appearance on this movement from Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. We open with Abbey Lincoln singing over drum accompaniment: "The beat has a rich and magnificent history, full of adventure, excitement and mystery. Some of it bitter and some of it sweet." But the centerpiece here is the four-minute percussion solo, performed with grandeur by Roach. This is a dramatic moment in 1960s jazz. Indeed, the whole Freedom Now Suite stands out as a landmark event in Roach's illustrious career, and an important milestone in the still-vital efforts to fuse African and jazz musical traditions.

December 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton: Milonga is Coming

Gary Burton had worked in Stan Getz's band in the 1960s, and saw firsthand how Getz's advocacy of bossa nova and willingness to collaborate with Brazilian musicians had revitalized his career and created a sensation in the music world. Two decades after leaving Getz, Burton embarks on a similar venture with the greatest Argentinean musician of the modern era, the brilliant tango composer and performer Astor Piazzolla. This promising meeting of jazz music and nuevo tango did not climb to the top of the charts, and posed no commercial match for that tall & tan & young & lovely girl who strolled past the Veloso bar-cafe in Rio. But this is a important recording, nonetheless, and one wishes that it had led to follow-up projects of similar scope. Burton here adapts to Piazzolla's compositions, and does so admirably, although with perhaps a little too much respect -- after all, Getz himself was fond of saying that irreverence was an essential attribute of a great jazz player. Maybe a dose of it would have been in place in this setting. I would have liked to hear one or two numbers in which the roles were reversed, with the great bandoneónist and his colleagues immersed in some heady modern jazz tunes; or perhaps (heaven forbid) a jazzier assault on one of Piazzolla's own cherished numbers.

December 26, 2007 · 1 comment

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Chick Corea & Béla Fleck: Brazil

Jazz fans have enjoyed this composition in many versions, both jazz arrangements such as Chick Corea's solo piano rendition, or when played (usually under the title "Aquarela do Brasil") by many of the leading Brazilian musicians of the last half century. This standard is so well known and beloved in Brazil that a panel of experts picked it as the "Brazilian song of the century" back in 1997. I can't remember asking for a version featuring banjo . . . but maybe that just shows my lack of imagination. Even so, I became the biggest believer in Brazilian banjo jazz after hearing Béla Fleck and Chick Corea work their wonders on Barroso's delightful composition. For several years now I have been suggesting that many of the most exciting developments in jazz will increasingly be found in various fusions with 'World Music' styles. But sometimes even I am surprised where these cross-fertilizations lead. Fleck and Corea's take on "Brazil" is one of those happy discoveries.

December 18, 2007 · 0 comments

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Yusef Lateef: The Plum Blossom

Master reedman Yusef Lateef was playing “world music” before the genre had a title. As early as the mid-1950s African, Near and Far Eastern influences are heard in his compositions and improvisations; by the end of the decade his records included many foreign instruments. On “The Plum Blossom” Lateef opts for the Chinese globular flute—which allowed him the use of only five pitches. He works within this limitation magnificently, constructing a concise improvisation that continuously evolves the simple, buoyant theme. Though the piece is built on only two chords and a repetitive rhythmic vamp, its exotic, minimalist qualities are compelling.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments

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Gabor Szabo: Spellbinder

From his 1961 debut with Chico Hamilton, Hungarian émigré Gabor Szabo was an iconoclast. At a time when most jazz guitarists used hollow-body electrics with conventional tuning, Szabo played an acoustic instrument with open tuning and pickups for amplification. This enabled his distinctive style built around drones or pedal points—a single tone (usually the tonic or dominant) sustained or repeated in the bass— above which he layered solos of exotic, raga-like entrancement. Backed by Latin percussionists, Szabo's Hungaro-Cuban "Spellbinder" suggests Columbus may have found a short route to India after all. This benevolent spell fades away much too soon, but is binding to this day.

November 01, 2007 · 0 comments

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Bela Fleck: Hoedown

Banjoist Fleck and his band the Flecktones demonstrate their trademark eclecticism and versatility by delivering a delightfully idiosyncratic reading of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.” Not many bands would give this famous classical composition a funky bass break and articulate the melody with such instruments as penny whistle, tabla, and bassoon, but then not many bands are Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, for whom the unexpected is only to be expected.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jim Pepper: Witchi-Tai-To

“Makes me feel glad that I’m not dead,” Pepper sings on this performance of his best known work. But four years later, Pepper would be dead, at age forty. He never achieved the fame in his lifetime that he richly deserved – but more honors and accolades have come his way posthumously. I have a hunch that his reputation will only continue to grow with the passing years, and that he will eventually be acknowledged as one of the jazz greats of his generation. “Witchi-Tai-To,” inspired by chants he heard his grandfather sing, would become the most unlikely of jazz standards, covered by everybody from Oregon to the pop duo Brewer & Shipley (of “One Toke Over the Line” fame). But nobody has performed it with the vigor and poignancy of Pepper himself, who here showcases it in a duet with pianist Kirk Lightsey.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments

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Rosa Passos: Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar

Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos teams with Ron Carter, whose longstanding affiliation with bossa nova makes for a memorable collaboration. Much of Passos's work celebrates the compositions of the great Brazilian bossa nova composers, as in this track. Paying homage to Joao Gilberto, with echoes of Shirley Horn, Passos delivers a lovely treatment of this lesser-known Jobim ballad. Galvao's inventive arrangement highlights Drewes's tastefully understated clarinet work. Carter's responsive support and Galvao's chordal accompaniment provide the perfect platform for the passionate vocal part, which is one of Vinicius de Moraes's best lyrics.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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